In 2014, a massive flood hit the streets of Srinagar, India. Companies like Axelereant had their offices forced underwater. This caused CEO Akur Gupta to have an idea.
He transformed his software agency into a 100% remote company. This removed the stress of returning to work after such bad weather. But this fast-thinking couldn’t prepare Gupta for his biggest career challenge: developing employee trust.
It’s easy for remote employees to feel disconnected from their teams. A Workplaceless study revealed that Axelerant employees felt isolated and undervalued. They didn’t trust their leadership or fellow team members.
This led to high turnover, culture toxicity, and poor performance. Gupta noticed these issues and promised to change them:
"We realized that [distributed teams] could quickly become saddled with a purely transactional culture... We needed to make a conscious effort to make interactions a lot more engaging, so that new friendships and powerful working relationships could be forged like in highly successful office settings.”
So, Gupta introduced mentorship programs and feedback tools. He even hired a life coach! As a result, the culture transformed. Trust, profit, and performance increased. Employees became Axelerant’s biggest supporters.
This shows how trust can improve a team’s performance. However, it’s not easy to develop this when there’s no physical workplace.
How we develop trust has little to do with words. Our body language, eye contact, and voice make a big chunk of our communication.
That’s why it’s easy to build relationships in an office. Seeing people’s expressions, smiles, and gestures inspires closeness. Even working on the same floor as another person creates familiarity.
But when you work remotely, you don’t have these interactions. You can’t talk to a team member a few cubicles away. You can’t high-five them for a job well done. This can make employees feel lonely and rejected.
According to a global survey, this is why 2/3 of remote workers are disengaged. And only 5% of them expect to stay at their company long-term wise.
This puts you in a unique spot as a manager. You have to practice deliberate leadership and reach out to employees to create a sense of teamwork. Or else they’ll leave quickly.
We, humans, want validation. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we satisfy our basic needs first. Then, we move onto psychological desires — love and respect from others. Without this, we become unhappy.
For example, most managers think workers leave due to poor pay. In reality, it’s because they feel neglected. HealthStream Research and O.C. Tanner interviewed 200,000 supervisors and employees.
They found that 79% of employees who quit, cited lack of appreciation as a factor. This is because we seek fulfillment from our work. We’ll even sacrifice cash rewards for it. When teams feel appreciated, their performance and productivity increases:
Companies with “recognition-rich culture” had 31% lower turnover rates than companies that don’t.
Sixty-nine percent of employees would work harder if they were better recognized.
Managers who recognize worker’s performance, increase employee engagement by 60%.
You should express appreciation often. However, this isn’t easily done virtually. You have to be more thoughtful and creative.
Most managers get praise wrong. They make assumptions and appreciate employees incorrectly. Based on Gary Chapman and Paul White’s book, every employee has a workplace love language. Or a preferred appreciation style. Four of them can happen remotely:
Words of affirmation
Acts of service
Before you can appreciate your employees, find out what language best fits them. Ask questions like:
“How do you like to be recognized?”
“How can I help you achieve your goals?”
“How can I make you feel more appreciated?”
Then, write down the answers.
The first language is quality time. It’s when you spend 30 - 60 mins coaching your employees. You help them develop skills and job paths. You also give them the freedom to express their ideas and frustrations. This can happen through video calls or chats.
Sometimes, employees would rather have special projects. Assign them tasks that will help advance their careers.
The second language is words of affirmation. This is verbal praise about someone’s accomplishments or character. The best praise is specific to the employee. Say things like, “You did a great job with X. It helped us achieve Y. Thank you so much!” Share these compliments over email, video calls, or comments.
The next language is gift-giving. The best gifts aren’t expensive. Instead, they’re personal. You can give online courses, gift cards, software, and eBooks. Whatever you choose, it should be relevant to your employee. Pay attention to their hobbies, interests, and problems. Don’t forget to write a note expressing gratitude.
Lastly, you can practice acts of service. You delegate tasks for an employee or give them the tools to finish them better. This helps lessen their stress. Ask questions like, “Is there anything I can do to make your work easier? What’s the best way I can help?” When you get the answer, get it done.
You know how remote work can increase employee productivity. However, it can also make them less committed. Remote workers are more likely than office workers to quit. The lack of interactions makes them less loyal to an organization. This can ruin your team’s morale and performance.
Luckily, you can reverse this damage. According to Gallup, managers who build trust with their remote employees are more likely to keep them.
Providing information, explaining expectations, and promoting autonomy show workers that they’re valued. Without this transparency, they’ll feel disconnected and start to look for work elsewhere.
It’s easy for people to lose sight of their duties and goals. Avoid this by setting clear expectations. Regularly chat with your team about deadlines, assignments, and lessons learned.
Also, share important company updates — the good and bad news. This gives employees clarity and shows that they’re valuable to the organization.
Next, realize that trust is a two-way street. You must give it to receive it. So try not to micromanage your team. Remote workers are more likely to overwork than slack off.
Great teams are filled with people who thrive under autonomy. It’s your job to give them clarity and support. But, it’s their duty to take action and complete projects.
The American Psychological Association surveyed 1,076 workers about job training and career development. Workers with supervisor support felt satisfied and appreciated. Those without support didn’t trust their employer. They were planning to leave next year.
This data shows that investing in your team’s growth helps build trust. However, when you don’t see your team often, you can fall into the “out of sight, out of mind” trap.
You forget to ask about their career goals, progress, and problems. This can make employees feel passed up for job opportunities. Just like this Hacker News user:
"I had no one to vouch for me. [If I had worked in an office], I would have had more opportunities to network...within the company and my accomplishments would have been more visible...Instead, I was quietly led out the back door and disappeared. In a remote company it’s a lot easier to be fired.”
This fear and distrust stops people from staying committed. Change this attitude by investing in their development.
As previously stated, people don’t quit solely because of low pay. They leave due to a lack of growth and recognition. To keep your team, you must become their coach and biggest supporter.
First, talk about their ambitions, goals, and weaknesses. Then, offer information, tools, or guidance that will help them achieve these goals. Or strengthen their skills.
You should also expose them to unique opportunities and other helpful leaders in your organization. This will make them feel valued.
Lastly, meet with your team members individually. Every three months, spend 30 - 60 mins discussing their strengths and weaknesses. Give feedback on how they could improve their performance.
This hands-on training will prove to your team that you’re invested in their success.
When your employees trust you, it becomes easier to retain talent, finish projects, and achieve positive results.
However, this isn’t easy in remote workplaces. The long-distance disconnects you from your team. That’s why social maintenance is important. Psychologist Laura Hambley explains the reality:
"You can’t get away with lazy leadership. You must proactively reach out to people regularly to create a sense of teamwork and community.”
You can do this by expressing appreciation to your workers often. But in a language that best resonates with them.
Share updates about the company so they won’t feel left out. And, trust them enough to finish tasks on their own. Independent people make remote work much easier.
Lastly, invest in their careers. Give them the tools and resources needed to do their job better.
Building trust is hard, but not impossible. If you make it a priority, your team can overcome a lot of challenges.